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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                       255
felt with him and wanted to help him in his problem.
Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He winked to Me»
resyev, beckoned^ to him with his finger and, glancing at
the door of his chief's office, whispered:
'The general has done all he can. He has no power to
do any more. On my word of honour. They'd think he
himself was mad if he appointed you to the flying per-
sonnel. Til tell you what. Go straight to the big chief. He
alone can help you."
Alexei's new friend obtained a pass for him and half
an hour later he was nervously pacing up and down the
carpeted floor of the waiting-room of the big chief's office.
Why didn't he think of this before? Of course! This was
where he should have come at once without wasting so
much time! It was win or lose now.... It was said that
the big chief himself had been an ace in his time. He
ought to understand! He won't send a fighter airman to
A number of staid generals and colonels were sitting
in the waiting-room conversing in low voices. Some,
obviously nervous, were smoking heavily. The senior
lieutenant paced to and fro in his strange, springy step.
When all the visitors had gone and Meresyev's turn came,
he briskly stepped up to the desk at which a young major
with a round, open face was sitting.
"Do you want to see the chief himself, Comrade Senior
Lieutenant?'' asked the major.
"Yes. I have a very important personal matter to put
to him."
"Perhaps you would tell me something about it first?
Take a chair, sit down! Do you smoke?" And he offered
Meresyev his cigarette case.
Alexei did not smoke, but for some reason he took a
cigarette, crushed it between his fingers, put it on the desk
and all at once, as he had done when he had been with
the captain, blurted out the story of his adventures. The
major listened to his story, not so much courteously as
amicably, sympathetically and attentively. He read the
magazine clipping and the Army Surgeon's opinion. En-
couraged by the sympathy the major displayed, Meresyev,
forgetting where he was, wanted once again to demon-
strate his ability to dance and .. „ nearly spoilt the whole